Monday, August 13, 2007

Merv Griffin: One of the Last Old-Hollywood-Style Impresarios

Impresario noun. 1. producer or promoter of commercial entertainment ventures. 2. entertainer; showman.

Many people in Hollywood think of Merv Griffin as the guy who created Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I think of him as one of the last old-style impresarios, because of the new talent The Merv Griffin Show spotlighted. A young model/singer named Whitney Houston. A young actor/stand-up comedian named Jay Leno. A bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzensomethingorother. Another was a young stand-up comedian named Jerry Seinfeld (who later did an episode of Seinfeld that had Kramer decorating his livingroom with the old Merv Griffin Show set--complete with Merv’s theme music). If Merv thought you had talent or you were an entertaining guest, he told people, and you got work.

The impresario in Merv didn’t go away with his talk show. As a game show producer, Merv discovered a fresh-faced 19-year old host with a potentially high Q-Rating. That 19-year-old would later go on to host a wildly popular, highly-rated primetime show. His name? Ryan Seacrest, of American Idol.

But the thing I liked most about The Merv Griffin Show was that he had an innate ability to combine the old with the new. In the early 1970’s, many of the stars and behind-the-scenes players from Hollywood’s Golden Era and the Golden Era of Broadway were still alive...and Merv brought them onto his show to reminisce, clear up long standing rumors, and tell great stories about their legendary studio bosses . (David Niven, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Adela Rogers St. John are some of the guests who come to mind.)

I’m glad he invited them, because their appearances on The Merv Griffin Show gave me the passion for Hollywood history I still have to this day. At the time, no one knew this but my parents, because it just wasn’t cool to be watching a show that my grandma liked. But every day after elementary school, I couldn’t wait to get home to see who was on Merv’s show. I can admit it now: It was thanks to Merv Griffin that I knew about the Cocoanut Grove, the Ambassador Hotel, and the Strork Club, that Arthur Treacher wasn’t only a place that sold fish and chips, and that the Copacabana wasn’t just the name of a Barry Manilow song.

Thanks, Merv.

R.I.P. Merv Griffin 1925-2007